click on LOGO to return to HOME page
"The people will never give up their liberties but under some delusion."---Edmund Burke
A Former MADD Executive Speaks Out:
The Anti-Drunk Driving Campaign: A Covert War Against Drinking--By Charles V. Peņa, Dec, 2003
Charles V. Peņa is the former executive director of the MADD Northern Virginia Chapter and the former executive director of the American Council on Alcoholism.
He is currently a policy studies director at the Cato
Institute, www.cato.org, a public policy think tank in Washington, DC. The views expressed
are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of his current or
In the beginning, the campaign against drunk driving led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD was about saving lives. Born in the grief of its grassroots membership, in the 1980s it took on a real menace: societys tendency to wink at plastered drivers who caused mayhem to themselves and others.
MADDs legislative efforts resulted in states passing and enforcing a raft of anti-drunk driving laws. Across the nation, there are now more than 23,000 traffic safety laws.(1) MADD also helped to correct social norms about drunk driving; drunks who drove were transformed in the popular eye from lovable, comic figures to reckless public enemies. For its original mission, MADD found many allies and spawned similar groups such as RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers), SADD (formerly Students Against Drunk Driving and now Students Against Destructive Decisions), and RADD (Recording Artists, Actors and Athletes Against Drunk Driving).
With such broad backing, MADD succeeded. Drunk driving fatalities fell from 28,000 in 1980 to 16,000 in 1998 (a 40% decrease) before rising slightly to 17,448 in 2001.(2) [These figures are alcohol-related deaths, not necessarily drunk-driver caused deaths---getMADD]. By 1995, MADD had already reached its Year 2000 goal of reducing drunk-driving fatalities.(3) But along the path to success, the original mission of getting truly drunk drivers off the road was lost. Indeed, the cause changed, blurring the line between (a) drunk driving and (b) driving after any amount of alcohol consumption a couple of drafts at a ball game, a split of wine at an anniversary dinner, a retirement toast or two.
Although MADD officially denies it is seeking the prohibition of moderate drinking when dining out, it remains unofficially committed to the prohibition of alcohol. Temperance is on the tongue of the organizations highest officials:
According to former MADD President Katherine Prescott, There is no safe blood alcohol level, and for that reason responsible drinking means no drinking and driving.(4)
Lowering the legal [arrest] standard will be a deterrent for light drinkers as well as heavy drinkers," Prescott told USA Today in 1998. (Emphasis added.)(5)
If you choose to drink, you should never drive. We will not tolerate drinking and driving period, MADD President-elect Karolyn Nunnallee told an NBC audience in 1997.(6)
MADD President Wendy Hamilton urged potential contributors in a November 2002 fundraising letter to, Forget the limits on BAC. Its just not acceptable to drink and drive. Period.(7)
In a September, 2002 letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hamilton said: Driving is a very serious and complex task. The thought that it can be successfully combined with alcohol on the part of the driver or even the passengers defies any logic I can imagine.(8)
The .08% BAC Debate
BAC, or blood alcohol content, is the measurement that determines how much alcohol an individual has in his or her bloodstream. A BAC of .06 means that your blood has a .06% blood alcohol content. BAC also serves as a quick-and-easy quantifiable measurement that allows law enforcement to define drunk in the context of drunk driving. In the 1990s, most states set .10% BAC as the legal limit for driving anything over that limit and you were breaking the law.
In 1998, MADD pushed Congress to withhold federal highway funds from any state that failed to lower their legal limit to .08% BAC. MADD lost the battle in Washington that year, and in the states. 1998 and 1999 saw more than 50 separate legislative sessions covering 32 states consider the .08% BAC standard. Only Texas and Washington adopted it. But in 2000, MADD successfully reintroduced their legislation at the federal level far away from the normal citizens whose state representatives passed hundreds of other highway-safety laws on their merits. At a high-profile White House Rose Garden event, Bill Clinton signed the .08% BAC bill into law. Now the 17 states that havent caved into federal blackmail are in the fight of their life. It isnt easy tackling MADD and swelling budget deficits at the same time.
The battle over .08% BAC legislation glaringly illustrates how MADD has turned its attention from truly drunk drivers to drinking more generally. And how the anti-drunk driving message shifted from friends dont let friends drive drunk to the more radical message of dont drink and drive.
MADD generally attempts to mask its radical, neo-prohibitionist agenda in the veneer of sound science and sober statistics. So the push to blackmail states into lowering the legal BAC level required studies that might provide evidence of reduced drunk-driving fatalities should their law pass. A few inconvenient facts stood in MADDs way. First, the U.S. Department of Transportations Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data show that the average BAC level in a fatal crash where a driver was actually tested is .17% more than double the proposed .08% BAC standard.(9) Second, the typical DWI fatality is caused by a person who has had more than nine drinks before driving.(10) And third, nearly two-thirds of alcohol-related deaths involve drivers with BACs of .15% and above.(11) Even MADD knows that lowering the BAC to .08% BAC will have no affect on these flagrant scofflaws.
Despite the challenges introduced by reality, MADD still manages to cite studies claiming that the .08% BAC law saves lives. The most prominent of these was conducted by Boston University sociologist Ralph Hingson, who declared that a national .08% BAC law would save 500 to 600 lives a year. Even before considering its methodological flaws, the Hingson study should be considered suspect because its author who is not a traffic safety professional has a serious axe to grind. Hingson has a history of anti-drinking activism, has published nearly 50 manuscripts on the dangers of alcohol generally, and currently serves as MADDs Vice President of Public Policy.(12) He is anything but an impartial researcher.
Dr. Robert Scopatz is a traffic-research scientist who directed New York Citys Transportation Research Office before helping create NHTSA data-analysis programs. He reviewed the Hingson study.(13) What did he discover?
Hingsons study paired several .10% states with neighboring states that had adopted .08 BAC laws. But Hingson had gone state shopping. For example, he compared .08% BAC California with .10% BAC Texas hardly neighbor states. Had Hingson compared .08% BAC California to .10% BAC Arizona, he would have found no difference between the two. Clearly, Hingson was picking and choosing his comparison states so that the results would align with his prejudices. Using the same data and number crunching techniques as Hingson, Scopatz concluded: Selection of logically valid comparison states eliminated any evidence of an effect of the .08% BAC laws in the states that passed them.(14) But Hingsons number crunching techniques were invalid as well. Scopatz observed Hingsons meta-analysis approach is not commonly applied to traffic safety research.
Another study by Dr. Robert Voas estimated that 590 lives could have been saved in 1997 if all states adopted .08% BAC laws.(15) But Voas, like Ralph Hingson, has been a member of MADDs board of directors. And Voas works for the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which endorses a roadblock program that stops every other car at least once annually.(16) He is anything but objective.
Aside from Hingsons flawed study, and Voass wild assertions, opponents of drinking and driving also point to a report published by NHTSA which increasingly marches in lock step with MADD arguing that 500 lives would be spared every year were the .08% BAC law to pass.(17) But in 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO), the watchdog of the Federal Government, completely refuted NHTSAs .08% BAC study. In fact, of seven NHTSA papers the GAO reviewed, they found four that had limitations and raised methodological concerns.(18) Guess whose paper was included in the GAOs rebuke? Thats right. Ralph Hingsons.
Among the NHTSA-sponsored studies admonished by the GAO was one 1991 report predicting a 12% drop in alcohol related highway deaths in California under a .08% BAC standard. The GAO said the study failed to factor in lives saved by a new license-revocation law. A 1995 California DMV study, which found .08% BAC a non-reactor in fatal crashes, the GAO found more methodologically sound. Yet, noted the GAO review, although the 1995 study was more comprehensive than the 1991 study, NHTSAs public statements and literature often quote the 12% reduction cited in the 1991 study and rarely refer to the 1995 study.(19) Indeed, NHTSA used the 1991 study in testimony before Congress, even though it was a prediction a prediction refuted by hard data from the 1995 study.(20) Unfortunately, this discrepancy is just one of many indications that NHTSA had abandoned professional and analytical objectivity in favor of unabashed pursuit of a .08% BAC standard.
The GAO also dismissed a 1994 NHTSA staff study of the first five states to adopt .08% BAC that conveyed the impression that fatal crashes involving alcohol went down 40% in one of the five states.(21) In fact, the 40% figure held true in Vermont for only one of six measures the NHTSA staffers included in their study. Moreover, GAO concluded the study was hamstrung by several important limitations that made its findings preliminary. Nevertheless, GAO critically observed, NHTSAs public statements were more definitive.
Three other NHTSA-cited studies, said GAO, fall short of conclusively establishing that .08% BAC laws by themselves have resulted in reductions in alcohol related fatalities.(22) Specifically:
(1) A 1999 NHTSA study of 11 states with .08% BAC laws concluded that just two of the 11 saw reductions in alcohol related fatalities, while nine did not. Yet NHTSA cited the study as additional support for the premise that .08% BAC laws help to reduce alcohol related fatalities a relationship, said the GAO, that even the studys authors [did] not draw.(23)
(2) The GAO accused NHTSA of suppressing its own study concluding, that the .08 BAC law in North Carolina had little clear effect. Disturbed by the studys failure to support the proposition that .08% BAC saved lives, NHTSA asked its author, Dr. Robert Foss, to recalculate. We looked real hard [for] measurable effects of this law, said the scientist. Try as we might, we didnt find anything.(24) NHTSA then waited 13 months to unveil Foss report, only to pass it off as supporting the agencys .08% BAC position.(25)
(3) GAO dismissed a 1999, 50-state NHTSA study for using flawed methodology. They chose an analytical method apt to produce a numerical effect that is larger than other methods. In common parlance, thats called exaggeration.(26)
Considering all the pseudo science employed by NHTSA, the GAO concluded:
[T]he evidence does not conclusively establish that .08 BAC laws by themselves result in reductions in the number and severity of crashes involving alcohol. NHTSAs positionthat the evidence was conclusivewas overstated.(27)
Dismissing the conclusions of its own authors, willfully employing flawed methodology, and selectively publicizing misleading information. Thats the NHTSA, which in its zeal to promote MADD inspired legislation improperly places the imprimatur of a supposedly neutral government agency on junk science.
NHTSA can no longer be considered an impartial arbiter of the nations accident statistics. Its oft-quoted statistic that drunk driving took 17,448 lives in 2001 is based on flawed initial reporting, questionable computer simulations, and outright misrepresentation. The Los Angeles Times tells the story of an Alabama State Trooper named Darrick Dorough who was assigned to investigate a fatal crash.(28) Dorough reported that the driver had been drinking, but he never took an alcohol test, and he later could not recall why he suspected drinking in the first place: I dont think drinking was the primary cause of the accident. It could have contributed to it. Thats a guess.(29) Still, NHTSA labeled that guess as an alcohol related fatality. Such are the stories that comprise NHTSAs statistics.
Then there are the cases where no one even reported alcohol usage. NHTSA uses a mathematical model to determine whether some crashes involved alcohol. According to the LA Times, If a young man hits a tree early in the morning, the model would classify the crash as alcohol-related, even without any evidence of alcohol.(30) One wonders: if NHTSA uses their model to say alcohol was involved when no evidence exists to that effect, perhaps they should start using the model to say alcohol was not involved, even if the driver had an open bottle of whisky in hand.
Only about 5,000 of the flawed 17,448 number are innocents killed by drunk drivers. Between 2,500 to 3,500 cases involved alcohol, but neither driver was drunk. 1,770 were drunk pedestrians killed by sober drivers. And about 8,000 involved only a single car. For the most part, the driver himself was the only one killed in these cases.(31)
.08% BAC Despite the Facts
Undeterred by the many problems with the 17,448 figure, the director of NHTSAs data compilation center confidently claims that all these highway deaths would have been prevented if no driver had consumed any alcohol. Never mind the nearly 2,000 drunk pedestrians who got themselves killed. NHTSA is less concerned with accuracy than with achieving its agenda.
The more evidence that comes in from states that have gone to a .08% BAC standard, the weaker the case is for .08. In a fair fight of facts, the argument for .08% BAC lost again and again:
Of the first 13 states that dropped their BAC threshold to .08% BAC, 46% saw alcohol-related fatality increase in one of the first two years thereafter.(32) The logical inference: its even money whether death rates will drop or rise post-.08, because the standard is safety-neutral.
A December 1998 report to the New Jersey Senate written by a blue-ribbon task force including police officers, judges, clergy members, and doctors found that the impact of [.08 laws] is inconclusive.(33)
Even .08% BAC advocate Voas wrote, drivers in the .08 to .09 range often do not exhibit the blatant erratic driving of higher BAC offenders.(34) Could this be because they are not dangerous? Statistics like these compel Tom Rukavina, a state legislator from Minnesota, to deny any safety benefit from a .08 law. He estimates that the law would merely result in 6,000 additional criminal arrests in Minnesota, costing the public sixty million dollars.(35)
The Interlocking Directorate
NHTSAs most recent publication of traffic safety facts (2000) shows that the percentage of non-alcohol-related fatalities has been going up almost continuously since 1986, while the percentage of alcohol-related fatalities has been going down over the same period of time.(36) The death toll from non-alcoholic related accidents on the road rose 39% in the last two decades to 24,700 in 2001. Thats nearly 50% higher than the inflated 17,448 number. Even so, NHTSA spends more than half its funds on drinking and driving programs. What explains this disproportionate fund allocation?
Clearly, NHTSA uses taxpayer dollars to help further MADDs agenda. But whats less clear is how NHTSA and MADD, government authorities and the nonprofit sector, have formed an interlocking directorate that make it difficult to separate academic from activist, professional from propagandist.
No NHTSA event would be complete without MADD. When NHTSA decided to celebrate the holiday season this past December with a campaign called You Drink and Drive. You Lose. MADD featured prominently at the press conference. So did Chief William B. Berger, former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who declared, We will not allow a man or woman to leave [a roadblock] knowing they consumed alcohol.(37)
Taking Bergers rhetoric at face value, any drinking prior to driving is outlawed, no matter how responsible or legal the driver. A glass of wine at dinner, a beer at a ballgame or a cocktail at a friends house can put you on the wrong side of the police. What about .08? Isnt it legal to drive under that level? Not if you listen to Berger, flanked by officials from MADD and backed up by NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge. In the campaigns press release he is quoted as saying: There are nearly one billion drinking and driving trips annually this crime will not be tolerated.(38)
You Drink and Drive. You Lose. promised a nationwide system of roadblocks, the real purpose of which is not to catch the dangerously impaired; rather it is to ensnare responsible social drinkers who committed the crime of having an adult beverage with their meal before driving home. MADD freely acknowledges the purpose of roadblocks on its website, arguing, If the public is aware the police will be conducting checkpoints they drink less.(39) No wonder MADD wants Congress to set up a billion dollar fund for more roadblocks. Its good friend NHTSA would administer the cash.
MADD lobbies to have NHTSA allotted additional funds, NHTSA gives lobbying money to MADD. In 1997, NHTSA granted almost a half-million dollars to MADD and another group to impact state legislative deliberation and create a network of highly motivated thoroughly trained individuals that will assist in the passage of impaired driver legislation.(40) That means tax dollars were going directly into the hands of neo-prohibitionist lobbyists. An outraged U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin reacted by inserting language in NHTSAs reauthorization barring it from third-party lobbying.(41)
But the damage had already been done. MADD had 11 chapters at the end of 1981. Nine months later MADD boasted 70 chaptersthanks to a grant from NHTSA for "chapter development."(42) And its not just money. Its people too. Take James Fell, former chief of research and evaluation in NHTSAs Traffic Safety Programs department. Hes now on MADDs national board.(43) NHTSA and MADD should be considered a revolving door of money and people, with taxpayers footing the bill and responsible drinkers suffering the consequences.
From Drunk Driving to Prohibition
The campaign against drunk driving has transformed into a crusade seemingly intent on making alcoholic beverages so disreputable they will be consumed only in ones home or some place removed from polite society. Drunk driving is a natural starting point for this movement because drunk driving deaths engender such passion and emotion.
The road to neo-Prohibition proceeds along two lines of attack. First, anti-drunk driving advocates aim to steadily decrease the amount of alcohol a motorist can consume before becoming a criminal. Second, the movement works to ever expand the settings where any drinking of alcoholic beverages is verboten.
Countdown to .02% BAC
In 1998, even before a .08% BAC sanction had been passed and adopted, President Clinton promised to stand with MADD and like groups if they returned to demand an even lower threshold.(44) It didnt take them long.
While waging the .08% BAC war, MADD reserved the right to agitate for still lower BACs if research suggested levels below .08% posed a danger.(45) Predictably, that research immediately materialized: an August 2000 study published by NHTSA claims, alcohol significantly impaired performance on some measures [of driving skills] at all examined BACs from .02 to .10% The major conclusion of this study is that a majority of the driving population is impaired in some important measures at BACs as low as .02% The data provides no evidence of a BAC below which impairment does not occur.(46) Studies like these have piled up in recent years. But Brian ONeill, President of the highly respected Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is skeptical. He argues that, we should focus on people who are seriously impaired and points out that, theoretically, very small amounts of alcohol in your blood impairs you, but so do antihistamines and lack of sleep.(47) Unfortunately, the drunk driving debate has become so emotional that common sense like ONeills is a rarity.
MADDs current President, Wendy Hamilton, sat on the Board of MADD Canada when it was pushing for a .05% BAC limit.(48) Lawmakers in at least eight current .08 states Utah, Oregon, Hawaii, Vermont, New York, New Mexico, Washington have attempted to lower the BAC to .06% or below. We call it prohibition drip by drip, says the president of the Ohio Senate, Richard Finan.(49) Even a United States Senator echoes the zero tolerance sentiment: We may wind up this country going to zero tolerance period says Barbara Boxer (D-CA).(50)
In 1998, delegates to the American Medical Associations (AMA) annual conference heard a speech by a Norwegian influential in his countrys anti-alcohol movement.(51) The speaker introduced to the assembly the notion of alcohol-free zones places or situations where policymakers might reasonably restrict the consumption of beer, wine, and liquor. These included:
on the water, whether boating or swimming
while in mourning or depressed
during sports or other outdoor activities.
While some of these alcohol-free zones make sense in proper context, if adopted in totality they would virtually eliminate social drinking as a public activity (no more alcohol-enhanced office parties, hockey games, or Fourth of July picnics). And by drawing the circle of social acceptability ever tighter, they would implicitly brand alcohol consumption in bars and restaurants as deviancy to be avoided by all good citizens. After all, if drinking is bad in most places, why not everywhere?
This neo-prohibition, as measured by ever-mounting anecdotes, is a process well under way. Consider how far the following depart from traditional tolerance of responsible drinking:
The Association of Flight Attendants wants airlines to stop serving passengers pre-departure drinks and The Center for Science in the Public Interest has promoted a banning alcohol on planes as a way to curb violent behavior by passengers.(52) There has been almost no pushback from the airlines. Indeed, United and Northwest promised to cut back on in-flight sales.
Banning alcohol in the air is hardly a new idea. The Crabby Traveler, who writes a travel column for ABC News Web site, cites examples of a few deranged air passengers who have made trouble and urges activists to fight for an alcohol ban as vigorously as they did to extinguish smoking.(53) Statistics provided by British Airways take a bite out of the Crabby Travelers argument. The airline reported only 266 disruptive passengers out of the 41 million who flew on the carrier in 1997. Whats more, only 37 of those incidents involved alcohol.(54)
Having a beer at lunch is now a firing offense for Michigan state employees since the Civil Service Commission imposed a .02 BAC during work hours. Our position, said one civil service official, is that on-duty activity, whether youre representing our state at a convention [emphasis added] or sitting in your office, means that you dont drink.(55)
Oregons Department of Motor Vehicles refused to issue a vanity license plate with the letters W-I-N-E to a retired wine dealer, describing this message as offensive.(56)
Anti-alcohol activist Sandy Golden argues that, Its time to get the country looking at the alcohol industry in exactly the same way were looking at tobacco . Were 10 to 15 years behind the tobacco people, and we want to close that gap in the next year or two.(57)
A 1999 MADD television spot shows heroin being boiled in a spoon and sucked into a syringe while the voiceover intones that alcohol kills more people under 21 than all illegal drugs combined. Message: just as there is no safe amount of heroin or crack cocaine, there is no safe drinking.
In Arlington, Texas, MADD opposed any beer drinking by golfers at a public course. Ive seen how alcohol can destroy lives, said a MADD spokesman. Life is risky enough on its own.(58)
These opponents of alcohol would be well served to hear what economist, Mark Thornton has to say: The lessons of Prohibition should be used to curb the urge to prohibit. Neo-prohibition of alcohol would result in more crime, corruption, and dangerous products and increased government control over the average citizens life.(59)
Americans who treat adult beverages like the plague are getting a boost from the U.S. government, which is painting the moderate and reasonable consumption of alcohol, unrelated to driving, as a public-health problem. From 1990 to 2000, the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) a taxpayer-funded agency with a $243 million budget set out to cut the consumption of adult beverages by 24% as part of a Healthy People 2000 coalition.(60) No one, least of all the beverage industry, supports alcohol abuse. But NIAAA defined a lifetime alcohol user in need of medical treatment as anyone who had consumed just 12 drinks in any one-year period.(61)
Healthy People 2000 ended the decade within reach of its goal: U.S. per-capita consumption of alcohol had dipped 21% between 1981 and 1996, with the average American imbibing more than a half-gallon less per year by the end of that period.(62) The coalition celebrated its victory in that battle, but did not call off the war. By 2010 it hopes to reduce percapita alcohol intake by another 9%.(63)
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is one of the driving forces behind the neo-prohibitionist movement. It has contributed over $160 million to anti-alcohol organizations since 1999.(64) Its goal is to reduce per capita alcohol consumption a very different aim than reducing alcohol abuse or drunk driving. To achieve that goal, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supports anti-alcohol publicity campaigns, limits or bans on the consumption of alcohol in public places, bans on Sunday liquor sales, increased taxes, and restrictions on where retailers can set up shop. The Foundation funds conferences of alcohols opponents, where participants present papers funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
One such paper, written by the Rand Corporations Deborah Cohen, argued that alcohol-related health problems in a population are directly related to per capita consumption. To reduce per capita consumption, she recommends a not-so-surprising combination of greater restrictions on alcohol accessibility, stricter disciplinary measures for violations and stricter licensure requirements.(65) She told the Dallas Morning News: its easier to control the providers than it is the consumers.(66) Of course, MADD praised the studys proven and important recommendations.(67)
Influenced by this neo-Prohibitionist movement, more Americans are seeing alcohol as unhealthy. Consider these findings from national polls:
81% of the public believe drinking alcohol is as harmful or more harmful than smoking marijuana.(68)
80% think the problems of alcohol consumption far outweigh the benefits. Among drinkers, 62% think the problems outweigh the benefits.(69)
44% feel the government is doing too little to regulate alcohol (versus 38% with that attitude about tobacco).(70)
Only 21% dispute the proposition that the health negatives of wine vastly outweigh its health benefits.(71)
55% agree that the spirits industry is a harm or a great harm; 50% think the beer industry harmful; 43% say the same of the wine industry.(72)
These numbers are particularly disturbing since numerous scientific studies link moderate alcohol consumption to longer life:
Researchers in Bordeaux, France, have found that Frenchmen who drink two to three glasses of wine daily have a significantly lower risk of death from all causes than do teetotalers.(73)
Research from the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute associates moderate beer drinking with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.(74)
Men who consume four to six drinks a week, according to a Harvard study, reduce their risk of fatal heart attacks by 60%. (Of this group, those who went from four drinks to five or six actually enjoyed a further 19% risk reduction.)(75)
Some diabetics, reports The Journal of the American Medical Association, seem to enjoy a strong reduction in death due to heart disease by drinking light to moderate amounts of alcohol.(76)
The science supporting the protective role of alcohol is indisputable; no one questions it any more, says Dr. Curtis Ellison, a professor of medicine and public health at the Boston University School of Medicine. There have been hundreds of studies, all consistent.(77)
How far has neo-prohibition progressed? In Wisconsin (often called Americas Bavaria), Sheriff Paul Bucher unleashed his deputies to enter private residences by force if necessary if they suspected minors were drinking inside.(78) No warrants. Anti-alcohol fever evidently trumps the Fourth Amendment. Meanwhile, SecurityLink is pitching a breathalyzer/video-camera array that permits police to check the sobriety of Americans in their own homes.(79)
A mans castle is no longer safe, and neither is his tavern. It will probably surprise you to learn that you cant be drunk in a bar. So says Fairfax County (VA) Police Chief J. Thomas Manger.(80) He claims that public intoxication is an offense worthy of arrest, and a tavern is a public place. This January, officers burst into Northern Virginia bars in search of intoxicated patrons. Anyone registering over .08% BAC the states legal limit for driving was subject to arrest. Bar-goers with that unlucky fate would be transported to an adult detention center until they sobered up.(81)
Heres The Washington Post with one womans story: as the designated driver in her dinner party, Pat Habib was careful to consume no more than one alcoholic drink and follow it up with two sodas. So she was shocked when a police officer singled her out of the crowd at Jimmys Old Town Tavern in Herndon and asked her to step outside to prove her sobriety.(82) Thats right. The police forced her to prove she was sober in a bar. Among the tactics they used to tell who might be drunk: frequent trips to the bathroom.
Youd think law enforcement would have something better to do than play hall monitor. The county constables insist that their policy of harassing social drinkers is proactive, and claim to be targeting the root causes of alcohol-related deaths.(83) In other words, theyre subjecting people to arrest for what they might do. As former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) noted in the wake of the raids, The Department of Precrime in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report was supposed to be fictional.(84) Unfortunately, when it comes to the zeal of anti-alcohol forces, it seems that nothing is off limits.
MADDs hijacking of the anti-drunk-driving crusade into a never-ending agenda advocating zero-tolerance proceeds apace. In an effort to demonize even prudent alcohol consumption, the organization has officially advocated a substantial increase in taxation on alcoholic beverages.(85) Moreover, MADD opposes legal reforms to eliminate joint and several liability.(86) That is, it supports deep pockets litigation, believing that companies tangentially connected with product misuse should be liable in case of a mishap. Such legal practices obviously increase pressure on corporations to suppress product sales as a means of self-protection.
There is some good news: The nations anti-alcohol religion wanes as well as waxes. In Americas early days, writes Edward Behr, everyone drank, including the babies whose milk was laced with rum and the horseback preachers whose calls were occasions to tip a jug.(87) Later came the keg-busters and the hatchet brigades, which have returned, if in somewhat blander form. But if history is a guide, they will not endure.
[CLICK HERE for another article on the Virginia police raids]
Focus on Drunk Driving, not Drinking
I worry that the movement I helped create has lost direction. [.08 legislation] ignores the real core of the problem If we really want to save lives, lets go after the most dangerous drivers on the road. Candy Lightner, founder of MADD(88)
What is to be done? We must unmask the true menace the chronic, ungovernable drunk driver who is not deterred by drunk driving laws of any kind. Political and financial resources being finite, its imperative not to spend them chasing responsible social drinkers just to keep special interest groups in business.
Even MADD occasionally shows signs of understanding the real problem when it comes to drunk driving. In late 1999, it launched a nationwide offensive against repeat offenders and super-drunk drivers.(89) In a press release, it cited NHTSA data that spotlighted, for once, the real problem. According to NHTSA, two-thirds of all alcohol-related highway deaths implicate drivers with a BAC level of .15% or higher.(90) Indeed, the driver who killed MADD founder Candy Lightners daughter had a .20% BAC.(91) And the killer of former MADD President Karolyn Nunnallees child registered .24% BAC.(92) Too bad MADD generally ignores the evidence that strikes closest to home.
Even when public attitudes toward drinking and driving were highly permissive, the super-drunk driver with an alcohol addiction has been the overarching threat. According to Voas, approximately one-half of first-time DWI offenders have BAC of at least 0.15% when arrested.(93) A nationwide pre-trial screening service discovered that more than 70% of repeat drunk-driving offenders were hard-core alcoholics, with an average BAC of .20%.
The driving peril of high-BAC drivers who cause the lions share of alcohol-linked highway deaths will remain undiminished as long as law-enforcement energies focus on the wrong target: low BAC drivers. Ever-lower BAC standards, as the 1995 California DMV study of that states .08% BAC law concluded, merely cause in-control drinkers to further restrict their intake before driving.(94) The alcoholic scofflaw keeps on drinking to the max.
States that allow on-the-spot administrative drivers licenses suspensions, that aggressively enforce sensible BAC limits, and that strongly penalize convicted drunk drivers who continue to drive on suspended licenses are pursuing strategies that really get potential killers off the road. Whats missing, however, is a system of graduated penalties. Every state in the nation employs such a system for speeding fining, for example, the driver who exceeds the speed limit by 40 mph substantially more than the one who goes 10 mph over the limit. Only recently have states begun to acknowledge the need for increased penalties for high-BAC drivers, but these levels generally start at twice the federal mandate of .08% BAC . In most states, however, stay just this side of your states BAC and you are (generally) unpunished. Go one-hundredth of one percent over the line and endure the same sanctions that await a serious drunk driver.
The result? Society recoils from legislating the kind of sanctions that truly drunk drivers deserve, lest they be forced to apply overly-harsh punishments to technical violators of BAC laws. Even NHTSA admits that a 120-pound woman with an average metabolism will hit .08% BAC if she drinks two six-ounce glasses of wine over the course of two hours.(95) Common sense says she shouldnt go to jail for getting behind the wheel.
Penalties for repeat offenders should be substantially harsher, with prison terms hard time awaiting drunk drivers who drive on a suspended license. Truly drunk driving is a crime. Its time we began applying the same punishment paradigm to that offense that governs all others.
MADDs founder is right: if we really want to save lives, lets go after the most dangerous drivers on the road.(96) Marshaling public support for this goal would be the first step in seeing a dramatic decrease in the toll of drunk drivings victims.
The other piece of the puzzle that requires attention and resources is treatment. To be sure, truly drunk drivers need to be punished. But punishment alone is not likely to succeed in curbing their drinking habit. Chronic alcohol abusers and alcoholics need treatment for their drinking problems, so that they dont become drunk drivers. The traffic safety community has long recognized this, but traditional means of prevention have had little or no effect. Education programs, license suspension or revocation, and other sanctions do not deter these drivers. Even jail time does not stop them from drinking and driving once they are released.
The only way to effectively deal with the hard core drunk driver is treatment. Treatment works, but there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for alcoholism and chronic alcohol abuse. AA has been hugely successful in helping people to stop drinking (and currently claims more than 100,000 groups and over 2,000,000 members in 150 countries), but the program does not work for everyone.(97) Treatment centers such as the Betty Ford Center and Hazelden have helped countless people, but can be costly.(98) And pharmaceutical products such as naltrexone have proved to be effective in curbing alcohol dependence.(99)
Treatment is not an absolute guarantee that an alcoholic will recover and never again pose a threat as a drunk driver. But without treatment, an alcoholic is destined to live the rest of his or her life out of a bottle, and that virtually guarantees that he or she will continue to be a drunk driver.
Recognizing the need for treatment, many jurisdictions around the country (including Phoenix, AZ; Bakersfield and Chico, CA; Hancock County, IN; Albuquerque, NM; Charlotte, NC; Stillwater, OK; and Fredericksburg, VA) have created DUI courts modeled after the successful drug court system.(100) DUI courts apply the ten key components of drug courts to the problem of hard core drunk drivers:
Integrate alcohol treatment services with justice system case processing.
Employ a non-adversarial approach, where prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants due process rights.
Participants are identified early and promptly placed in the program.
Provide access to a continuum of alcohol treatment and rehabilitation services.
Abstinence is monitored by frequent testing.
Coordinated strategy governs court responses to participants compliance.
Ongoing judicial interaction with each participant is essential.
Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective court planning, implementation, and operations.
Forging partnerships with public agencies and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances court program effectiveness.
DUI courts represent a legal means of intervention to provide treatment for alcoholism and alcohol abuse. In other words, DUI courts recognize that the act of drunk driving is a crime, but the consumption of alcohol is not. And the system is set up to help the individual with his or her particular alcohol problem. So, unlike more broad and sweeping measures (e.g., .08 BAC and roadblocks), DUI courts are focused, and directly address the drunk driving problem without infringing upon those who act responsibly and dont endanger innocent people.
No one denies that some drinkers of adult libations habitually overconsume, with tragic consequences for themselves, their families, and innocents unfortunate enough to cross their weaving path on the highway.
Drinking alcohol is not, as the New Prohibitionists assert, all bad. It is hard to name a freedom that carries no risk, or a product that human irresponsibility has not at some point turned into a weapon. Perspective is what balances the equation.
MADD and its allies oppose any drinking and driving. That certainly is their right. Yet the traditional role of alcohol as a social lubricant and host to conviviality cannot be denied. The sun looks down on nothing half so good, wrote C.S. Lewis, as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer.(101) Today, tens of millions of Americans value those same experiences. They find camaraderie, cement friendship, and reaffirm love in restaurants where alcohol helps confirm these vital human ceremonies. Many must use a car to get there, and to return home. How great is the risk?
For the vast majority of these citizensthe responsible majority, who know when to stopthe risk is small. To eliminate it totally removes these peoples right to publicly celebrate the most fundamental human connections. The risk that such celebrations create is no more inordinate than that created when we allow drivers to go 65 mph on an interstate, knowing full well that a 25 mph cap would be safer. In a free society, the question is one of balancing competing goods.
The Prohibitionistthe Absolutist impulse is always with us. Once its spokesmen alleged that drinkers might explode if they stood too close to an open flame. Today they charge that drinkers, however prudent and careful in consumption, are wreaking slaughter on other motorists and pedestrians. Folly then, folly now.
Whats needed is a new alliance of reasona league of hard-headed realists that would preserve revered social rituals by tempering the New Temperance, yet champion safety by relentlessly targeting the reckless few.
To fight with each other while this menace barrels past, claiming new victims, is to exacerbate the problem. It is not to behave with sobriety.
1 Some People Question Further Need for Organization, The Columbus Dispatch, 12 January 2003.
2 U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts 2000, DOT HS 809 337, April 2002, 32; and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts 2001, DOT HS 809 470, December 2002, 1.
3 Really MADD: Looking Back at 20 Years, DRIVEN, Spring 2000.
4 MADDs Mission is to Save Lives, Chicago Tribune, 18 February 1997.
5 Drunken Driving Laws 98: States Face Debate on Legal Limit, USA Today, 2 January 1998.
6 Karolyn Nunnallee, Today Show, 12 October 1996.
7 MADD Fundraising Letter, December 2002.
8 No Drunks Need to Drive, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12 September 2002.
9 Unpublished analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System data on BAC levels and fatalities in accidents where a driver was actually tested.
10 According to NHTSAs BAC Estimator (developed in October 1994), a 160-pound man with an average metabolism who drank 9.5 drinks in a four-hour time period without food would reach 0.16% BAC (A drink is defined by the program as containing 0.54 ounces of alcohol.).
11 Analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System data. Calculation includes traffic fatalities in which a driver involved was actually tested at 0.01% BAC or above. All deaths were categorized according to the highest BAC of a driver by individual crash.
12 Boston University School of Public Health biography of Ralph Hingson, http://www.bumc.bu. edu/sph/FacultyStaff/FacultyDetail.asp?PeopleI D=625; accessed 1 March 2003.
13 Robert Scopatz, Analysis of 1975-1993 Fatal Crash Experience in states with 0.08% Legal Blood Alcohol Levels, American Beverage Institute, Executive Summary, May 1997.
14 Ibid., 12.
15 Robert Voas et al., Effectiveness of the Illinois .08 Law, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, September 2000.
16 Researcher Examines Real World Effects of Alcohol Prevention, Food & Drink Daily 5, no. 85 (5 May 1995).
17 James Fell and Delmas Johnson, The Impact of Lowering the Illegal BAC Limit to .08 in Five States in the U.S., 39th Annual Proceedings of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, Chicago, IL (1995), 45-63.
18 Highway Safety: Effectiveness of State .08 Blood Alcohol Laws, General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Committees, GAO/RCED-99-179, June 1999, 21.
19 Ibid., 14.
20 Hearing of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on
the Surface Transportation Act Renewal, Testimony of Mr. Phillip R. Recht Deputy Administrator for the National Highway
Traffic and Safety Administration, 7 May 1997.
21 GAO Report, Highway Safety, 16.
24 UNC Study: Lower Blood Alcohol Level not Helping Much, Chapel Hill Herald, 10 January 1999.
26 GAO Report, Highway Safety, 20.
27 GAO Report, Highway Safety, 25.
28 A Spirited Debate Over DUI Laws, Los Angeles Times, 30 December 2002.
32 Unpublished analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System data. Calculation includes traffic fatalities in which a driver involved was actually tested at 0.01% BAC or above. All deaths were categorized according to the highest BAC of a driver by individual crash. State statistics from 1983 to 1997 were reviewed.
33 New Jersey Senate Task Force Report on Alcohol Related Motor Vehicle Accidents and Fatalities (11 December 1998), quoted in U.S. General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Committees, Highway Safety: Effectiveness of State .08 Blood Alcohol Laws, (June 1999) GAO/RCED-99-179, 13.
34 Voas et al., Effectiveness of the Illinois .08 Law.
35 17 States Balk at U.S. Push to Redefine DUI Threshold, Chicago Tribune, 1 January 2003.
36 U.S. Department of Transportation, Traffic Safety Facts 2000.
37 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Press Conference, 18 December 2002.
38 New Years Eve a Time for Caution, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 27 December 2002.
39 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Sobriety Checkpoints: Facts & Myths, from MADD website; available from http://www.madd .org/madd_programs/0,1056,1229,00.html; accessed 1 March 2003.
40 U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Transportation Department Announces $2.4 Million in Grants for Eight States, Press Release, 15 October 1997.
41 Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century, Public Law Number 105-178, Title VII, Subtitle A, Section 7104 (a), Subsection 30105, 9 June 1998.
42 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, "Rally MADD: Looking Back at 20 Years," from MADD website; available from http://www.madd.org/aboutus/0,1056,1686,00.html; accessed 23 March 2003.
43 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Rating the States 2002 - Speeches, from MADD website; available from http://www3.madd.org/laws /rts_speeches.cfm; accessed 1 March 2003.
44 President William J. Clinton, Clinton Remarks at Signing of the Presidential Directive to Reduce Drunk Driving, U.S. Newswire Transcript, 3 March 1998.
45 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Super Drunk Drivers and Repeat Offenders, Press Conference, 29 December 1999, C-SPAN Archives ID: 154394.
46 U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Driver Characteristics and Impairment at Various BACs, DOT HS 809 075, August 2000; available from http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/research/pub/impaired_driving/BA C/technicalsum.html; accessed 1 March 2003.
47 17 States Balk at U.S. Push to Redefine DUI Threshold.
48 See Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 2000 Annual Report; available from http://madd.ca/ library/madd2000.pdf; accessed 1 March 2003, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 2001 Annual Report; available from http:// madd.ca/library/madd2001.pdf; accessed 1 March 2003.
49 17 States Balk at U.S. Push to Redefine DUI Threshold.
50 Hearing of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the Surface Transportation Act Renewal, 7 May 1997.
51 The group, AlkoKutt, is still active in the Norwegian temperance movement. See AlkoKutts home page 8 Alcohol Free Zones, http://www.alkokutt.no/english/; accessed 1 March 2003.
52 Unfit to Fly: Passengers Disrupt Flights After Drinking Alcohol, Dateline NBC, 24 April 2001.
53 Christopher Elliot, Flying High, ABCNEWS .com, The Crabby Traveler; available from http://more.abcnews.go.com/sections/travel/Crabby/alcohol.html; Posted 3 August 1998; accessed 1 March 2003.
54 Carrier Calls for Mobilization Against Disruptive Minority, Air Safety Week, 9 November 1998.
55 Strict Drug, Drinking Rules for Non-union State Workers, The Associated Press State & Local Wire, 28 September 1998.
56 When Do Vanity Plates Become Profanity Plates?; Some States Forbid What Others Allow, San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 December 2002.
57 Jason Brooks, Toasting Tobacco, Reason Magazine, November 1988.
58 MADDs Success Relies on its Focus, Dallas Morning News, 10 September 1999.
59 Mark Thornton, Alcohol Prohibition was a Failure, Cato Policy Analysis, No. 157, 17 July 1991; available from http://www.cato.org/ pubs/pas/pa-157.html; accessed 1 March 2003.
60 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy People 2000: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives, Objective 4.8, Government Printing Office Stock Number 017-001-00474-0 (1991).
61 B. F. Grant, Prevalence and Correlates of Alcohol Use and DSM-IV Alcohol Dependence in United States: Results of the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiology Survey; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. Journal of Studies on Alcohol (September 1997).
62 Economic Research Service, Beverages: Per Capita Consumption, 1970-2000, Food Consumption (per capita) Data System, time series data source, U.S. Department of Agriculture, available from http://www.ers. usda.gov/Data/foodconsumption/datasystem.a sp; accessed 1 March 2003.
63 Healthy People 2010 website available from http://www.healthypeople.gov/document/html/ objectives/26-12 htm; accessed 1 March 2003.
64 From unpublished analysis of grant schedules in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Federal Employer Identification Number 226029397) Form 990 Return from Organizations Exempt from Income Tax, submissions to the Internal Revenue Service from 1999-2001 and available from the IRS by request.
65 Deborah A. Cohen et al. The Population Consumption Model, Alcohol Control Practices, and Alcohol Related Traffic Fatalities, Preventive Medicine, V. 34 (2001): 187-197.
66 Dallas Leads U.S. in Alcohol Road Deaths; Study of 97 Cities Finds Lower Rates in Areas with Stricter Regulations, Dallas Morning News, 14 January 2002.
67 Study Recommendations On the Mark When it Comes to Reducing Alcohol-Related Traffic Tragedies, MADD Press Release, 14 January 2002
68 Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, The Monitoring the Future Study; available from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org; accessed 1 March 2003.
71 Opinion Research Corporation and DYG, Inc., Surveys for the American Beverage Institute, 1995 (updated 1998).
73 Serge Renaud, Archives of Internal Medicine, vol 159, p 1865.
74 Why Beer can be Even Better for your Heart than Red Wine, Daily Mail, 28 April 2000.
75 Study: Frequent Drinking Helps the Heart, No Matter What You Drink - or How Little at a Time, Associated Press, 9 January 2003.
76 Charles T. Valmadrid et al., Alcohol Intake and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Mortality in Persons With Older-Onset Diabetes Mellitus, Journal of American Medical Association, (1999) 282 239-246.
77 The Case for Drinking (All Together Now: In Moderation!), The New York Times, 31 December 2002.
78 New Technology Tracks Drunk Drivers, The Edmonton Sun, 2 June 1999.
79 Indiana County Tests Photo Breathalyzer, CNN.com; available from http://www.cnn. com/TECH/computing/9906/09/breathalyzer.id g/; accessed 1 March 2003.
80 Arrests Inside Bars Leave Bitter Hangover in Fairfax; Taverns, Officials Assail Police Crackdown on Intoxication, Washington Post, 16 January 2003.
81 Cops Hit Bar to Cite Suspected Drunks, Washington Times, 7 January 2003.
82 Bar Raids Irritate Owners, Drinkers Fairfax Police Defend Sobriety Testing, Washington Post, 8 January 2003.
83 Fairfax County Police Department Press Release, 9 January 2003.
84 Crimes Before the Fact, Washington Times, 9 January 2003.
85 MADD Poll: Drunk Driving Still Top U.S. Highway Hazard MADD Supports Alcohol Tax To Cover Cost Of Abuse, Food & Drink Daily, 8 April 1994.
86 House Bill Limits Damage Payouts, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 July 2002.
87 Edward Behr, Prohibition: The 13 Years that Changed America, Arcade Publishing, September 1997.
88 MADD Agenda Goes Mad with Neo-prohibtionism, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 25 March 2002.
89 MADD Press Release, 29 December 1999.
90 Unpublished analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System data on BAC levels and fatalities in accidents where a driver was actually tested. All deaths were categorized according to the highest BAC of a driver by individual crash.
91 Power MADD, Washington Times, 6 March 2000.
92 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Patricia Patty Susan Nunnallee, Information on Victims Services & Information on MADDs Website, available at http://www.madd.org /victims/0,1056,5071,00.html; accessed on 1 March 2003.
93 Robert B. Voas and Deborah A. Fisher, Court Procedures for Handling Intoxicated Drivers, Alcohol Research & Health 25, no. 1 (1 January 2001): 32-42.
94 California Department of Motor Vehicles, Research and Development Section Division of Program and Policy Administration, The General Deterrent Impact of Californias 0.08% Blood Alcohol Concentration Limit and
Administrative Per Se License Suspension Laws, California Department of Transportation, August 1998.
95 According to NHTSAs BAC Estimator (developed in October 1994), a 120-pound woman with an average metabolism who drinks 2 6ounce glasses of wine (at 13% alcohol) would reach 0.08% BAC. Most table wine is between 12% and 14% alcohol.
96 MADD Agenda Goes Mad with Neo-prohibitionism.
97 Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A. At A Glance,; available from http://www.alcoholics-anony-mous.org/default/en_about_aa.cfm?pageid=1; accessed 1 March 2003.
98 At the Betty Ford Center, the cost for inpatient treatment is $1,175 per day for the first six days and then $430 per day for each inpatient treatment day thereafter. Betty Ford Center, Betty Ford Center Programs, available from http://www.bettyfordcenter.org/programs/programs/prices.html; accessed 1 March 2003.
99 For more about naltrexone see National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Naltrexone Approved for Alcoholism
Treatment, press release, 17 January 1995; available from http://www.niaaa.nih.gov /press/1995/naltre-text.htm; accessed 1 March 2003 and National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, Naltrexone and Alcoholism Treatment, Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 28; available from http://www.health.org/govpubs/ BKD268/; accessed 1 March 2003.
100For more about DUI courts see Judge Jeff Tauber and C. West Huddleston, DUI/Drug Courts: Defining A National Strategy, National Drug Court Institute Monograph Series 1, March 1999; available from http://www.ndci.org/dui.pdf;
accessed 1 March 2003.
101For the Sound of Some Words, The Plain Dealer, 26 November 1992.
(This article has been reprinted with the generous permission of the author. Text in bold has been highlighted by getMADD.)
"I believe that there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment than by violent and sudden usurpations."- James Madison